Maui teachers fear children will be among dead as 7-year-old found in burned car

More than 100 people are dead but few of the victims have been identified

Ariana Baio
Friday 18 August 2023 16:51 BST
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As officials in Hawaii work to determine the identities of the over 100 people who died in the Maui wildfires, members of the community fear that children will make up a large part of that death toll.

When the fast-moving wildfires broke out on 8 August, many children were home from school because dangerous winds from a hurricane off the coast of Hawaii forced school closures.

But with no warning that fires near Lahaina were about to engulf the town, there was no time for people to conduct orderly evacuations to keep track of children and ensure they got to safety first.

Jessica Sill, an elementary school teacher at Lahaina King Kamehameha III, told The Wall Street Journal that she fears some children were home alone the day of the fires.

“Our parents work one, two, three jobs just to get by and they can’t afford to take a day off,” Ms Sill said. “Without school, there was nowhere for [children] to go that day.”

Kelly Gallego, an eighth-grade teacher at Lahaina Intermediate School said her heart breaks thinking about missing families.

“When it comes to thinking about some of those families not being there…I don’t have words to express how much my heart is breaking now,” Ms Gallego told WSJ.

Officials in Maui are still conducting searches of the burned area to determine how many people died in the wildfires. As of Friday morning, the death toll was 111 but Hawaii Governor Josh Green said he expects that number to go up.

While people try to locate missing loved ones, Maui officials are undergoing a process to identify the remains of some victims. Due to the extremely hot blaze, some victims need DNA samples to match with surviving family members in order to be named.

Among the dead is a seven-year-old boy who was found alongside three family members in a burned car. Seemingly, the family was trying to escape the flames.

The County of Maui has not officially named the boy or his family members as deceased, but their living family announced their deaths on social media and a GoFundMe page.

Ms Sill said two of her former students lost a seven-year-old cousin in the blaze and said she’s worried for her students as they cope with the disaster.

“We are so worried for them and we will do whatever we need to support them through this catastrophe,” Ms Sill told WSJ.

This handout image courtesy of the US Army shows damaged buildings and structures of Lahaina Town destroyed in the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, August 15, 2023
This handout image courtesy of the US Army shows damaged buildings and structures of Lahaina Town destroyed in the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, August 15, 2023 (DVIDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Another elementary school teacher, Justin Hughey who works in special education, said he too is thinking about the aftermath of his students’ mental health.

“We don’t even know if our kids are still there, if the kids are still alive,” Mr Hughey told Civil Beat. “And then you gotta deal with all the trauma that the kids have gone through.”

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